Residents wonder if officers chased SUV with illegal immigrants into neighborhood

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by Crystal Cruz and Catherine Holland

Video report by Crystal Cruz

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 8:35 AM

Updated Thursday, May 3 at 8:35 AM

Map: Third Ave. & Florence St.
Casa Grande

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CASA GRANDE, Ariz. -- Four people believed to be illegal immigrants are dead and seven others were injured in an early morning wreck in Casa Grande.

It happened at about 1 a.m. Wednesday in the area of Third Avenue and Florence Street.

According to the Casa Grande Police Department, U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, were following a pair of vehicles driving in tandem, one of which they believed was carrying illegal immigrants.

Human smugglers often use two vehicles when transporting illegal aliens. One vehicle is used as a decoy to distract law enforcement; the other is a "load vehicle."

A Casa Grande officer saw a 2001 Dodge Durango speed into city from the south on Florence Street. The female driver lost control of the Durango as she tried to turn onto Third Avenue, crashing in the yard of home.

The home belongs to Juanita Ledezma, 82.

Neighbors want to know if officers chased the SUV into their neighborhood causing a dangerous situation.

"No, they were not being pursued or chased by law enforcement with lights and sirens," said Casa Grande Police Department spokesman Thomas Anderson.

Aerial video from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper showed the wrecked Durango sitting in the yard.

The Casa Grande Police Department said that while investigators were following the Durango, they were not actively pursuing it.

There was a total of 11 people in the Durango, 10 of whom are believed to be illegal immigrants. One of the passengers was thrown from the vehicle on impact.

Three people inside the Durango were pronounced dead on the scene. A fourth died at Maricopa Medical Center.

Seven other people, including the driver, were transported by ground and by air to Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, Maricopa Medical Center, Good Samaritan Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital. Their conditions were not immediately available.

Investigators have identified the driver of the Durango as an Eloy woman, but they are not releasing her name. They have the second driver, also a woman, in custody, but they are not releasing any information about her either.

Nobody inside the Casa Grande home where the Durango crashed was injured.

When the homeowner returned, she told 3TV this is the fourth accident that has happened in her front yard.

"I want to move. I'm looking for a place to move and see if I find one," Ledezma said.

Casa Grande is about an hour southwest of Phoenix.

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